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CEDIA 2005: LCD Comes On Strong


The annual CEDIA (Custom Electronics Design and Installation Association) trade show just wrapped up its 2005 event in Indianapolis this past weekend. CEDIA is synonymous with "high end home theater," and manufacturers often use this show to unveil their latest home theater projectors.

Every trade show has a story, and the story for this year's CEDIA was the barrage of new LCD projectors boasting contrast specifications of 5000:1 or greater. Let's take a moment to put this into perspective. Historically, DLP has always enjoyed a market perception as the leading video technology due largely to its ability to deliver greater dynamic range than either LCD or LCOS. For the most part, DLP projectors have always carried higher contrast ratings than have LCD projectors. Meanwhile, LCD vendors have tended to respond competitively with lower price tags. Thus, if you wanted DLP performance, you'd expect to pay a premium for it, at least as far as home theater projectors are concerned. These pricing dynamics have traditionally reinforced the consumer's perception of DLP as the "better" video technology.

Five dramatic product announcements in the last five days are set to challenge this conventional wisdom. For the first time in a long time, LCD is not just playing me-too, with price/performance propositions merely adequate to remain in the game. This time LCD has flexed some serious competitive muscle, at least to the extent these things can be judged by official spec sheets. The five powerhouse LCD releases, all featuring 1280x720 widescreen panels, are as follows:

Sanyo PLV-Z4. Featuring a unique dual iris light engine, the Z4 is rated up to 7000:1 contrast, and 1000 ANSI lumens. It has wide latitude vertical and horizontal lens shift, and a very long 2.0x zoom range that enables it to deliver a 100" image anywhere within 9.8 to 20 feet of throw distance. This is much improved over last year's PLV-Z3, with its 1.3x zoom lens. The longer zoom range will make the Z4 easier to install in a variety of viewing spaces. (Sanyo was not actually at CEDIA, but timed the product announcement to coincide with the show. Thus we have not seen a Z4 as of yet. As of this writing no retail price has been announced; once it is, we will update the Z4 spec page.)

Panasonic PT-AE900. Incorporates a rapid dynamic iris, dynamic gamma, and dynamic sharpness control that allows it to completely reconfigure itself frame by frame every 1/60 second. Panasonic claims to be the only manufacturer that has achieved a 1/60 second reconfiguration speed, and this may well be the case. No other vendor we have spoken with that offers dynamically reconfiguring iris technology is able or willing to quote the speed of the system. The AE900's contrast is 5500:1 with iris activated, and when it is viewed side-by-side with last year's AE700, the improvement in dynamic range is obvious. The AE900 retains the 2.0x zoom range of its predecessor, and a number of other features have been added. Retail price is $3,199, and shipments commence in another few weeks.

Epson Powerlite Pro Cinema 800. Rated at a whopping 1600 ANSI lumens and 5000:1 contrast, this is the brightest widescreen home theater projector under $5,000. Generally, high contrast can only be achieved at the expense of lumen output, so the combination of high lumen output and high contrast on this unit is unique and noteworthy. The product is designed for use with very large screens, or to accommodate some degree of ambient light in the viewing area. It is priced at $4,495.

Epson Powerlite Cinema 550. A lower priced, lower performance companion piece to the more muscular 800, this one is rated at 1400 ANSI lumens and 3000:1 contrast. (Did you ever expect 3000:1 to sound "low" for an LCD projector?). This model is priced at $2,495, and it is intended for use in home entertainment settings with ambient light in the room. Ambient light hammers actual screen contrast, and renders the projector's theoretical contrast rating irrelevant anyway. So 3000:1 contrast is more than ample for its intended application environment.

Hitachi UltraVision HDPJ52. Hitachi's elegant new top-of-the-line home theater projector is rated at 1200 ANSI lumens and 5000:1 contrast. It features a dual iris system, ten-step gamma adjustments, and a 1.6x zoom lens with vertical and horizontal lens shift, all packaged into beautifully designed casework. It will ship this month at a retail price of $3,999.

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